Why Hollywood is now having a #MeanToo moment

Headshot of Jay Hanna
Jay Hanna
The West Australian
9 Min Read
Why Hollywood is now having a #MeanToo moment
Why Hollywood is now having a #MeanToo moment Credit: Supplied

Hollywood may still be feeling the aftershocks of the #MeToo movement but hot on its stiletto heels comes another wave of accusations levelled at badly behaved stars.

Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness is the latest celebrity to stand accused of behind the scenes bullying and temper tantrums, in a movement that has been dubbed #MeanToo by the New York Times.

On March 5, Rolling Stone published an article alleging Van Ness, a “grooming expert” and arguably the breakout star of Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot, is a “nightmare” to work with.

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Several sources claimed the non-binary star, known affectionately as JVN, was “abusive” and “demeaning” with one labelling him a “monster” with “rage issues”.

Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness is the latest celebrity to stand accused of behind the scenes bullying and temper tantrums, in a movement that has been dubbed #MeanToo by the New York Times.
Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness is the latest celebrity to stand accused of behind the scenes bullying and temper tantrums, in a movement that has been dubbed #MeanToo by the New York Times. Credit: Unknown

These words are in stark contrast to the fun-loving, clipper-wielding, floss-enthusiast who has long been seen as a vocal advocate for the LGBTQI community and a crusader for body positivity and self-love, over eight successful seasons of the reality makeover show.

Celebrities behaving badly is nothing new.

There’s a long list of pop stars, models, actors, and rock legends who’ve been accused of on-set tantrums, mid-flight meltdowns, flinging phones at long-suffering assistants or flipping the bird at fans who’ve been eagerly waiting just to catch a glimpse of their heroes.

Some stars even lean into that persona, like Mariah Carey who, in an interview with W magazine, admitted her reputation as a diva reflected at least “part of” who she is.

Mariah Carey (file image)
Some stars even lean into that persona, like Mariah Carey (pictured) who, in an interview with W magazine, admitted her reputation as a diva reflected at least “part of” who she is.  Credit: AP

Up until recently there’s been a willingness to accept that a bit of bad behaviour behind-the-scenes doesn’t impact what a star can do on stage, screen or in front of the camera.

Elton John still managed to sell out stadiums around the world during his farewell tour despite plenty of controversial behaviour over the years.

Naomi Campbell regularly graces the cover of magazines despite being accused of 11 acts of violence and convicted of assault on four occasions.

Lizzo will likely go on to release more albums and tour, despite allegations of body-shaming and sexual harassment.

Lizzo will likely go on to release more albums and tour, despite allegations of body-shaming and sexual harassment. 
Lizzo will likely go on to release more albums and tour, despite allegations of body-shaming and sexual harassment.  Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian

Martha Stewart continues to be beloved in America, even though she served time for lying to federal investigators over accusations of insider trading.

And let’s face it, Jason Bateman may have a reputation for being difficult and rude but if he produces and stars in another series of the same calibre as Ozark, we’ll all be tuning in.

Martha Stewart continues to be beloved in America, even though she served time for lying to federal investigators over accusations of insider trading. 
Martha Stewart continues to be beloved in America, even though she served time for lying to federal investigators over accusations of insider trading.  Credit: Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images

But for how much longer?

Excuses about intense scrutiny, high pressure environments and increased public intrusion thanks to mobile phones and social media are starting to wear thin and increasingly those who work with the stars or those who are at the end of their abuse or bullying are demanding they should be held to account.

Jason Bateman may have a reputation for being difficult and rude but if he produces and stars in another series of the same calibre as Ozark many still tune in.
Jason Bateman may have a reputation for being difficult and rude but if he produces and stars in another series of the same calibre as Ozark many still tune in. Credit: NBC/Getty Images

Emboldened by the brave #MeToo survivors who came forward with stories of sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of some of Hollywood’s most powerful men including the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Crosby, Danny Masterson and Kevin Spacey, those staffers are now coming out about other forms of workplace abuse.

In a 2022-2023 industry survey of more than 5000 entertainment professionals the Hollywood Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality found that:

“Nearly 1 in 10 respondents reported being insulted, humiliated, or yelled at by a colleague, with rates highest among women and younger people.”

In an article on the #MeanToo movement in Slate magazine, David Mack said both #MeToo and #MeanToo marked a generational shift in what employees deem acceptable and unacceptable workplace behaviour.

“In addition to #MeToo, part of this change has been generational. In the past, there was a widely held expectation in Hollywood that low-ranking workers would put up with abuse from top figures in order to climb the ladder,” he wrote.

Mack also pointed out that social media has provided a platform for employees who previously didn’t have the means to speak out.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Marvel Series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and power producer Scott Rudin look unlikely to work in the industry again.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Marvel Series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and power producer Scott Rudin look unlikely to work in the industry again. Pictured: Writer and director Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Marvel Series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and power producer Scott Rudin look unlikely to work in the industry again. Pictured: Writer and director Joss Whedon Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Others who have been accused of bullying such as actors Lea Michele and Bill Murray, have suffered reputational damage and seen a marked decrease in work offers.

But what happens when the bad behaved celebrity isn’t an Oscar-winning actor, global pop star or era-defining model?

What happens when what they trade off and are selling us is their personality and we discover that it may not actually represent the person they are when the cameras aren’t rolling?

It seems the public feel more deceived and are less willing to forgive in these instances.

On Queer Eye, Van Ness was adored for their flamboyant style, hilarious quips, and joyous, fun-loving personality. But according to the Rolling Stone report written by Cheyenne Roundtree, sources said that personality was “largely a charade”.

On Queer Eye, Van Ness was adored for their flamboyant style, hilarious quips, and joyous, fun-loving personality. Pictured: Queer Eye
On Queer Eye, Van Ness was adored for their flamboyant style, hilarious quips, and joyous, fun-loving personality. Pictured: Queer Eye Credit: Ryan Coller/Netflix

“Jonathan’s a person who contains multitudes and who has the capacity to be very warm, very charismatic, and has the capacity to make you feel really special that they are paying attention to you,” one source told Roundtree.

“But at least once a day, they would need to yell at somebody. It might be something small, but there’s always going to be somebody to point out and blame and make the villain of the day.”

“There’s a definite contrast between the principles and the values that Jonathan stands for publicly,” another source who worked with Van Ness told Roundtree.

“They’re really cantered around having this warmth, love, and care for other people. There’s a real contrast between that and the way that they treat the people who are closest to them across the board. It’s the opposite of what this person is touted and paid to be.”

Likewise when comedian, turned talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, arguably the second most popular female talk show host post-Oprah Winfrey, was accused of rude, bullying and demeaning behaviour by guests, producers and other industry insiders, fans felt duped.

The Ellen DeGeneres Show aired for the last time on May 2022 after two decades on air.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show aired for the last time on May 2022 after two decades on air. Credit: John Locher/AP

The accusations were particularly ironic, given the show’s slogan was: “Be kind to one another”.

The Ellen DeGeneres Show was a day-time television juggernaut. It ran for 19 seasons and picked up 63 Daytime Emmy Awards including 11 for Outstanding Talk Show (later rebranded Outstanding Talk Show Entertainment), outstripping The Oprah Winfrey Show which won nine awards in the same category.

DeGeneres traded on her quick wit, good-natured pranks, goofy dancing and general likability. She was friendly with and moved in a lot of the same circles as her guests and audiences liked that she provided a window into the life of the rich and famous while seemingly not being affected by fame herself.

But in 2020 The Ellen DeGeneres Show was investigated for being a “hostile workplace and for alleged workplace harassment of staff” after several former employees spoke out on social media.

The accusations ranged from lack of communication, bullying and harassment with some staffers claiming that no one was allowed to even look at DeGeneres backstage.

Videos also resurfaced of DeGeneres’ confrontational interview style which saw her force a reluctant Mariah Carey to announce her pregnancy on air, interrogate a then 23-year-old Taylor Swift about her dating history — which many later cited as an example of “slut shaming”. She was also called out on air by Dakota Johnson who insisted that despite her claims to the contrary, DeGeneres had been invited to her birthday party.

The mud stuck and the show aired for the last time on May 2022 after two decades on air.

While she knew her career was all but over, DeGeneres remained adamant in the face of overwhelming criticism.

“My whole being is about making people happy,” she told the Hollywood Reporter, after confirming her show was coming to an end. “And with the talk show, all I cared about was spreading kindness and compassion, and everything I stand for was being attacked. So, it destroyed me, honestly. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t.”

Corden’s stint as host of The Late Late Show came to an abrupt end when accusations of him yelling at directors and staff and being called out by New York restaurant manager Keith McNally for being rude and obnoxious to wait staff.

James Corden, who was previously known as an actor and writer, perhaps best known for the hit UK comedy Gavin & Stacey, which he co-wrote and starred in, succeeded Craig Ferguson as host of The Late Late Show in 2015. By the time he called stumps in 2023 and moved back to England, public opinion towards him had soured dramatically.

James Corden
James Corden succeeded Craig Ferguson as host of The Late Late Show in 2015 and left in 2023. Credit: BANG - Entertainment News

Critics had long been divided over Corden hosting and interview style. Many found him to be rude, fake and fawning in interviews with a tendency to talk over guests. However popular segments like Carpool Karaoke and Crosswalk the Musical proved to be viral hits.

A close friendship with widely-adored global superstar Harry Styles, also worked in Corden’s favour. Their relationship meant Corden enjoyed unprecedented access to the usually media wary Styles, who would even occasionally fill in as host on The Late Late Show when Corden was otherwise engaged.

But like DeGeneres, Corden couldn’t survive accusations of bad behaviour behind the scenes and pulled the pin without admitting any guilt.

Jimmy Fallon is the latest host to be accused of fostering a negative workplace environment on The Tonight Show.

Known for his charming, easy-going, slightly goofy demeanour on-screen, Fallon has long had a reputation for only asking the soft questions making him a favourite with stars keen to plug their latest venture without being interrogated in the process. He’d be much more likely to engage Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus or Ryan Gosling in singing contest or guessing game than ask them any hard questions.

Jimmy Fallon is the latest host to be accused of fostering a negative workplace environment on The Tonight Show.
Jimmy Fallon is the latest host to be accused of fostering a negative workplace environment on The Tonight Show. Credit: Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images

But in September 2023, Krystie Lee Yandoli wrote an article for Rolling Stone titled Chaos, Comedy, and “Crying Rooms”: Inside Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.

Two current and 14 former staff went on the record to claim Fallon exhibited erratic behaviour throughout 2020. They said Fallon and other executives had belittled and intimidated staff to the point of tears.

Others conceded there were “good Jimmy days” and “bad Jimmy days”. On the bad days, even showrunners would reportedly tiptoe around the host, who would be prone to outbursts, berating or belittling staff.

“You never knew which Jimmy we were going to get and when he was going to throw a hissy fit,” one staffer told Rolling Stone, citing a high turnover of staff and showrunners, in particular.

Since 2014 The Tonight Show has gone through nine showrunners and six leadership teams.

The phrase “we’re up against it” was a common way for staff to alert each other that this was a “bad Jimmy day”, according to the report.

Two former showrunners Jamie Granet-Bederman and Nedaa Sweiss were also singled out as bullies and for enabling bad behaviour.

However, many current staff members, have since come out in defence of Fallon and the show.

After Rolling Stone published the article, Fallon apparently apologised to staff in a Zoom call hours later.

“It’s embarrassing and I feel so bad,” Fallon is reported to have said.

“I want this show to be fun, it should be inclusive to everybody. It should be the best show,” he added.

At this stage, Fallon remains host of The Tonight Show and the program is contracted to run on NBC until 2026.

A spokesperson at the network came out in defence of the show claiming that “providing a respectful working environment” was a “top priority”.

“As in any workplace, we have had employees raise issues; those have been investigated and action has been taken where appropriate,” the spokesperson said.

Current showrunner Chris Miller also addressed the controversy by sending employees an email acknowledging the Rolling Stone report but conceding he didn’t think it reflected the current workplace culture.

“I don’t believe what’s written is reflective of the overall culture of our extraordinary team that I’m so lucky and proud to work with every day,” he said.

“It’s disappointing to see something published that does not capture the positive and inclusive environment I believe we have created together,” he added.

So where does all this leave Van Ness?

While Queer Eye was recently renewed for a ninth season, the cracks that were starting to show when co-star Bobby Berk officially disbanded the original Fab Five by announcing he wouldn’t be returning, have become gigantic fissures in the wake of the Rolling Stone expose.

It seems unlikely that a reality star whose on-screen persona appears to be in direct contrast to their actual personality can survive at a time of reckoning for Hollywood.

Time will tell, but it’s likely DeGeneres and Corden would advise JVN to upgrade their curling wand in preparation for a return to their day job.

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